PROVIDENCE – In a matchup of two Big East teams that gave new meaning to muddying up the waters, the Providence Friars defended their home turf with a 63-58 win over St. John’s on Wednesday night.
The outcome remained in doubt until the very end. Up three after David Duke made 1-of-2 at the foul line with 25.4 seconds left, the Friars needed to come up with one more defensive stop and got it. Duke was all over Mustapha Heron on a three-point try from the corner, but the bid that would have tied the game sailed over everything. Luwane Pipkins snatched the air ball and the Friars’ best free-throw shooter sealed it with 7.2 seconds left.
Alpha Diallo led PC with 19 points while Pipkins scored all nine of his points during crunch time. L.J. Figueroa finished with 12 points to lead St. John’s. Providence shot 36 percent compared to 37 percent for St. John’s.
“Offensively and defensively, that’s the type of player we’re used to seeing,” said PC coach Ed Cooley about Diallo.
The Friars were noticeably short on manpower as they took the court minus A.J. Reeves (concussion symptoms) and Emmitt Holt (sore ankle). With only seven scholarship players at Cooley’s disposal, the Friars managed to hold on to improve to 4-1 in the Big East, 11-8 overall. One of the players who was asked to step to the forefront was freshman Greg Gantt, who started in Holt’s place and impacted the game in several areas. In 30 minutes, Gantt had seven points, six rebounds, two assists, and two blocks.
“I thought we got good minutes from all seven guys,” said Cooley. “I thought Greg showed a lot of maturity. We knew we had to play him so he got a lot of reps in practice. A game like this is good for him because it’s open. I thought playing zone really helped him because he wasn’t chasing guys or fouling on screens. He was a big plus for us.”
The road to a sixth straight win over the Red Storm was anything but easy. There was an opening when the Red Storm committed six turnovers over a seven-minute, 29-second span, but PC’s struggles on offense thwarted what was a golden chance to add some significant padding on the scoreboard. Of the first 12 points the Friars scored, 10 stemmed from turnovers.
It was only a 12-7 lead as Providence got off to another frosty start from the field (4-of-16). The Red Storm came in as the worst three-point shooting team in the Big East but that didn’t seem to matter when the visitors got hot from beyond the arc to go up 18-16. Greg Williams was the main catalyst with two threes with Figueroa also contributing from downtown.
Other than the brief success rate from deep, the Johnnies (12-6, 1-4 Big East) struggled to get into a steady groove and ended the half with zero players in double digits and shooting 36 percent. The Friars’ zone defense was doing the trick, yet offense was hard to come by from sources not named Diallo. The senior had it going from the perimeter and close range as he ended the half with 13 points.
Diallo was one of just four Friar players to break into the scoring column with one half down. Granted, Cooley’s options – particularly off the pine – were limited, but PC has struggled with its offensive touch even when a full complement of players was available. Even though they connected at a 33-percent clip, the Friars pulled into the break with a 31-26 lead.
The second half was merely a continuation of the opening 20 minutes as both sides refused to give an inch. The Red Storm were in the penalty with 12 minutes remaining but the Friars had their own tough pill to swallow with Diallo forced to take a seat with four fouls.
“It was tough, but I had faith in the guys who were out there. They continued to fight,” said Diallo.
Cooley elected to keep Diallo on the bench until there was 3:09 left. Just when it appeared the Friars were set to skid out of control, Kalif Young came to life with two timely baskets that helped PC enjoy a 57-52 lead.
“When I got back in there, I had to echo what they were doing,” said Diallo.
When Marcellus Earlington converted a hoop as he was fouled, St. John’s saw its deficit cut to 58-56 with 1:23 left. After a video review where the possession remained with the Friars but with just five seconds left on the shot clock, Pipkins hit a turnaround that made it a two-possession game.
“I thought he made the shot of the game,” said Cooley.
St. John’s quickly responded to move back to within two, as Earlington hit a jumper with 27 seconds left, but that’s as close the visitors would come inside the final minute.
RIM RATTLERS: If Friar fans wish to get an up-close look at the future, the opportunity exists this coming weekend. Delaware prospect Jyare Davis and his Sanford School teammates will be in Springfield, Mass. for the Hoophall Classic. A senior forward who recently made a verbal pledge to join PC next season, Davis will take the court for a Saturday 9 a.m. contest against Albany Academy. The venue is Springfield College's Blake Arena. … Alyn Breed, the lone player to sign with Providence during last fall’s signing period, will also be in Springfield for games on Friday and Saturday. On Friday at 3 p.m., Breed and IMG Academy will face Hargrave Military Academy. On Saturday at 6:30 p.m., IMG will be back in action against New Hampton. Both games are part of the inaugural Hoophall Prep Showcase that will take place at American International College. … The Friars have now lost 18 games lost due to injury/illness this season. … PC will play its next two games away from The Dunk starting with Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. game at Creighton. The season’s second two-game road swing in Big East play will continue next Wednesday night at Seton Hall.
Follow Brendan McGair @BWMcGair03